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Banking on Women offers chances to grow businesses

Published: Wednesday, May 11 2011 5:11 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — When Cathy Tshilombo-Lokemba came to the United States decades ago, she dreamed of owning her own business. Born in the Republic of Congo, she was raised in Belgium and France before eventually emigrating to the U.S.

While living in Dallas, she started a catering and wedding decoration business. But when she moved to Utah five years ago, she faced some challenges in launching her business locally.

"I opened up my own business here in Tooele and since I wasn't really known here, it was really (difficult getting established)," she said.

Tshilombo-Lokemba eventually enrolled in Banking on Women. Launched in May 2010, the program sponsored by GE Capital helps women to jump-start their own businesses by providing specialized training, business mentorship and access to micro-financing loans. In addition to 15 weeks of intensive course work and training, the program offers ongoing assistance for all participants.

"It’s a program that takes a group of women entrepreneurs — either start-ups or existing businesses — and … develops a business plan," said Danielle Lower, instructor and manager for the Banking on Women program. "After the program, they get ongoing support through an alumni group."

Lower said the program is mostly targeted toward low-to-moderate income women, who may be moms or have other jobs.

The courses are scheduled for one night per week for the 15-week period.

She said Banking on Women’s first class of graduates will be recognized Thursday during an event at the Gore Auditorium on the Westminster College campus from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Among those graduates will be Tshilombo-Lokemba. The 45-year old mother of three was able to parlay the program resources, a $15,000 loan and the vision she had into a burgeoning commercial enterprise.

She has transitioned from catering to primarily producing and marketing her own brand of signature authentic African sauces for food. Her Pili Pili sauce is already on shelves at eight locations in Texas and Utah.

"This is a program that will give you confidence," she said. "It will give you a strong network of support. It was just amazing!"

The Banking on Women: Insights from Entrepreneurs event will include experienced female entrepreneurs who will speak about some of the innovative programs and policies that are available to Utah’s budding business owners. Speakers include Jacque Butler, founder and chief executive officer of MedQuest Solutions; and Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

Lower said the program provides the participants with a safe environment to "examine their goals and their dreams to see if it can happen."

"In addition, it gives them the emotional support that they need to feel free to delve into what they might do," she said.

For the next round of applicants, GE Capital will work in conjunction with the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund and the Institute for New Enterprise at Westminster College.

For more information on the Banking on Women program, visit http://www.gecapital.com/en/banking_on_women.html.

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com

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